Theater archives

Two Big-Name Choreographers Return


If I could weave through all the construction at Lincoln Center and catch only outstanding ballets, cherished moments in ballets, and favorite dancers at both the Met and New York State Theatre, I’d revisit Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH several times (luckily, New York City Ballet is also presenting it at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in July).

Beautifully made, inventive without being tricky, and evoking a community of unself-conscious people you’d like to know, it opens like the surprise package it is. Seven men—all wearing Holly Hynes’s red-trimmed, cut-off orange unitards—cluster, facing inward like a bunch of old-time beach athletes conferring. As pianist Susan Walters and the orchestra under Fayçal Karoui launch into Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, the men break apart and shove Ashley Bouder into the air and toward us. It’s as if a rose had decided to eject a spirited blue butterfly. Bouder, Gonzalo Garcia, and Joaquin De Luz (Ratmansky has given him a wonderful, flashing solo) are the scamps of the gathering. They butt together, take turns pushing one another into the air, and, once, sit spraddled-legged at the back, watching the men and their partners kite around in ingenious patterns.

At one point, another circle forms, this time around Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied (splendid together), who gaze beyond the ring into some unknown distance and then at each other. There’s always something vibrant going on in this society, as there is Shostakovich’s concerto (composer-author Eric Salzman once described it as “clattering, breezy, ironic, jaunty”). People zoom through in interesting ways, staying to dance or to watch. Men rush in, scoop up a woman, and carry her off. One dancer whispers into another’s ear. When Whelan and Millepied begin a gentle, luminous duet, a group in the background is just finishing a curious little pantomime that calls to mind the second movement of Paul Taylor’s Esplanade. One person falls. A friend bends over: Are you all right? Others confer and console. More often, the dancing pours out on the venturesome tide of the music. Concerto DSCH is a profoundly happy ballet. “Let me know what you’re thinking,” the dancers seem to say to one another. And: “I’ll be back soon, loving you still.”

I also need to see Twyla Tharp’s Rabbit and Rogue again—in part, to try to figure out what makes it tick. As in her 1989 trifle, Bum’s Rush, and The Catherine Wheel (1981), she seems to be dealing with a nuttily dysfunctional family, but in this case, characters and scraps of “behavior” thread confusingly through a big, formal ballet, with a score by noted film composer Danny Elfman that keeps up with all the changes. Unlike The Catherine Wheel‘s glorious concluding “Golden Section,” Rabbit and Rogue doesn’t lift the characters into a higher state. It swirls on and on like a gleaming carousel, with no lever to change its speed or stop it.

The two eponymous characters, as played brilliantly by Herman Cornejo and Ethan Stiefel, are rapscallions—buddies who could easily kill one another by accident. They pursue each other through all the shifting patterns, try nonchalant trickery and outright attack, all the while knocking off some stunning steps (is it relevant that Tharp grew up with younger twin brothers?). There’s also a “Rag Couple” (Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg) with an edgy partnership and obliquely ragtime manners. The “Gamelan Couple” (Paloma Herrera and Gennadi Saveliev) are all slow loveliness in their ballet good behavior and white attire. There’s also a featured quartet popping in and out (Yuriko Kajiya, Maria Riccetto, Carlos Lopez, and Craig Salstein). Salstein has several entrances in which he gets halfway across the stage and judders to a halt at the sight of the two heroes’ carryings-on. In the end, he acts as a referee so the guys can end the ballet by walking upstage into darkness, arms around each other’s shoulders.

As she did for Tharp’s dazzling In the Upper Room (1986), Norma Kamali creates a changing array of costumes for the demi-soloists and ensemble of 12. Black morphs into skimpier, sexier black; then into white to copycat the Gamelan Couple; then into silver (some folks wear silver shoes from the outset). But there’s no lift-off, as there was in Upper Room. The ensemble often crosses the back of the stage—sometimes as ballroom couples, sometimes in canonic parades. It’s like seeing an individual or a pair multiplied in a hall of mirrors.

The steps and the pace are exhilarating, but the shards of drama keep luring us down an unproductive rabbit hole of interpretation. In the end, I feel as if we’ve been put on the spot in some strange, irritating way. However, I hold to this: A flawed work by Tharp is more interesting than many a choreographer’s personal best.

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